Mobile phones killed off the wristwatch. They took it out back and dashed its poor little glass face out on the nearest rock, and then cackled maniacally while eyeing up our MP3 players and pocket cameras. Now, try as the tech industry might, they’re struggling to bring the watch back to life.
Smartwatches have an inherently limited appeal. They occupy a relatively tiny market dominated by just one company, Apple, and it’s a market that’s not growing as quickly as the number of naked wrists around us would have you believe. Certainly not fast enough to support every third-party manufacturer who wants to stay aboard the watch-wagon.
Last week, rumours circulated that smartwatch veteran Asus is about to kill off its ZenWatch series, citing poor sales. The latest in that series, the ZenWatch 3, recently launched in the UK and is on the brink of updating to Android Wear 2.0, Google’s overhauled and vastly improved wearable OS.
If the rumours are true, then it’s a great shame. The ZenWatch 3 is unrecognisable from previous iterations, ditching the rectangular face in favour of a more classic, rounded bezel, behind which sits a screen that – unlike many like it – extends right the way to the frame’s edges.
The result is a watch that looks like a watch (a rarity, for some reason). A chunky, clunky watch, for sure, but a convincing charade all the same. You could get away with wearing one without drawing attention to yourself.
What does it do? It connects to your phone and routes notifications to your wrist, where you can use the watch’s touchscreen to perform simple actions. Messages can be read (and, if you really don’t want to unholster your phone, replied to with doodled emojis).
Launch CityMapper on your phone and your wrist will display the next step of your journey, vibrating politely when you’re arriving at your stop, or showing you a map route to your destination.
Don’t ever let anybody tell you this kind of thing is revolutionary, but it’s great for cyclists who prefer to pack their phone away before riding, or for compulsive phone checkers who want to break the loop.
That there are still improvements to be made makes it all the more disappointing to think this might be the last ZenWatch we’ll see. The ZenWatch 3 has no GPS, meaning it can’t tell where it is when not tied to a phone. Nor does it have a heart rate monitor or any kind of biometrics, so those after a fitness tracker will be left wanting. NFC – needed for contactless patments – is also absent.
But what’s here is a sleek, sensible and fast-charging watch, well designed and comfortable to wear. If this is the ZenWatch’s last hurrah, then it’s nothing less than a mic drop by Asus.